May 10, 2005

Radio Shuffle?

Philip Michaels writes in his piece on today that iPods killed the radio star, an article about how radio stations across the country are changing their formats, greatly expanding the number of songs played, and using terms like 'Jack and Shuffle' in their promotional materials to describe the format. Philip seems to think this is a great idea. I, on the other hand, call it crap.

Case in point, some months back, a local and much beloved Oldie's station suddenly and without warning switched it's format, and they now apparently play everything ever recorded. This isn't a format, this is a total lack of format. What had been a station that the whole family could enjoy, and more importantly, was something my wife and I as parents felt comfortable with our children listening to, suddenly became off limits because you never knew what would pop up next in their rotation. As an added 'bonus', the station also canned all their on-air personalities, and so now songs weren't announced, so for the most part you had no idea what you were listening to.

For years, while on the road and tuning up and down the band looking for tunes, I'd occasionally find some decent music (my tastes run from oldies to classic rock to metal), and then suddenly I'd be listening to an entirely different genre. Typically such stations included the tags 'Mix' or 'Magic' in their slogans, a sure warning sign to stay away.

People like to shuffle their OWN playlists, songs that they have specifically added to their library by artists they know and enjoy listening to. Shuffle allows them to hear songs from THEIR library that they might normally play, forgotten tracks from an older CD. Tuning into a radio station that plays selections from multiple genres and from artists the listener has probably never heard of is quite frankly annoying. How would you feel if you bought a case of your favorite beverage, and every can tasted different?

For me, the whole point of listening to a radio station over my iPod is to hear tunes not necessarily in my collection, but hopefully in a category that I'm familiar with and enjoy. I like listening to the local DJ announce the songs to tell the listener what they were listening to, maybe give some info about what the artist is doing these days, and all the other banter that's worked into the broadcast, something your iPod can't do. But tuning into a radio station that's all over the dial musically, and worse those without DJs to tell you what you're listening to is just plain bad business.

People like a certain amount of predictability, they like things they're used to, and hence will stick with those products that deliver this reliably. Small changes over time are easily accepted (new songs from old artists, new songs from new artists, but all within the accepted genre), but major format changes are often rebelled against and listeners will go elsewhere.

Radio stations can not and should not be directly competing with the iPod or other MP3 players, they need to stick with what they do best, what they've been doing for decades, and give the listeners what they want, or you'll find that your listers will soon be shuffling to another location on the dial.

Posted by Jim at May 10, 2005 5:59 PM | TrackBack